No. 1: Wizards see chance to get back on track (again) -- The Washington Wizards enter tonight's Game 6 of their series with the Boston Celtics (8 ET, ESPN) needing to win to stay alive. On the plus side of that notion is that tonight's game is in D.C. The minus side, however, is that even if they win, the Wizards have to find a way to get a victory in Boston in this series (which Washington has yet to do). Candace Buckner of The Washington Post tries to figure out why the Wizards are having such road woes:
Together, the top-seeded Celtics and fourth-seeded Wizards have created the outlier of the 2017 NBA playoffs. While both teams strut at home but stagger on the road, the postseason has favored the road warriors. Through the first round, seven of the eight matchups were closed out by the road team — including the Wizards, who earned their only road win of the playoffs in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks.
Boston would prefer for this trend to continue, but the Wizards have five good reasons to remain confident ahead of Game 6.
As Brooks talked to reporters and searched for silver linings, he mentioned the only statistic that matters: the Wizards own a 5-0 home record in the playoffs. This undefeated mark ranks even higher than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, although these two title chasers have swept a pair of playoff opponents and have played only four games on their respective home courts.
At home during the postseason, the Wizards are still the same highly-functioning offensive team, shooting similar percentages inside Verizon Center as in other arenas. However on the defensive end, the Wizards transform into a worse team on the road.
In the five home games, Washington has held opponents to 40.9 percent shooting, the second-lowest among all playoff teams. Through the six road games, opponents shoot 49.4 percent against the Wizards, who are 1-5 in those games.
Fan support and familiarity with the court can help explain why teams perform better at home. However, if there’s a far deeper meaning behind a home-court advantage, Brooks has yet to find one.
“I think that’s been analyzed and studied since the game was invented. The home court, you always have a comfort level,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, “and a lot of times your bench always plays better at home. Just happens. I don’t really know the real reason. I’ve been thinking about it for many, many years — even as a player I’ve always felt better.”
Late Wednesday night inside the visitor’s locker room, the Markieff Morris-inspired team nickname lived on as young role players Daniel Ochefu and Chris McCullough wore “Deathrow DC” T-shirts under their suit jackets. After taking a 22-point loss, however, the Wizards’ season now faces an execution.
The menacing nickname and coordinated T-shirts won’t seem so out of place back in Washington, and with the threat of elimination looming, Beal clung to the comforts of home.
“Everybody plays well at home,” Beal said. “We’ve got to take advantage of it. Think of it as a positive and forget about this game, move on. Get a win and hopefully come back here.”
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No. 2: Lue vows to make Love a bigger factor in offense -- Up and down moments seem to have colored most of Kevin Love's stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season has been no different, as he put up All-Star-level production in the first half of the season (and was named an All-Star), but his stats have been on the decline in the playoffs. Tyronn Lue addressed how he'll fix that issue and more, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
The Cleveland Cavaliers' so-called "Big Three" -- LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love -- has devolved into more of a dynamic duo in the playoffs while Love has lagged behind, and coach Tyronn Lue blames himself for Love's drop in production.
"Just because [Love's] not scoring the basketball or whatever, defensively and rebounding the basketball he's been great," Lue said Thursday. "For me, some of it's my fault because we haven't really featured him a lot because of the matchups we had on other teams.
"He's been great. His whole mindset is winning, and that's what it's all about in the playoffs. In this next series, we have some matchups he can definitely take advantage of, and it's on me to make sure we do that."
Love's regular-season averages of 19.1 points and 11.1 rebounds have plummeted to 13.8 points and 9.1 boards in the playoffs. Cleveland has played eight games, sweeping Indiana and Toronto.
Meanwhile, James' scoring average has exploded from 26.4 to 34.4 points per game. Irving's has stayed in range, from 25.2 down to 23.8, despite the fact that his shot attempts have increased from 19.7 to 21.6 per game.
During the regular season, Love averaged 23.3 points on 50 percent shooting (52.9 percent from 3) and 11.7 rebounds in three games against Washington, and 23.7 points on 38.5 percent shooting (37.9 percent from 3) and 13 rebounds in three games against Boston.
Lue has approached Love about his intention to involve the stretch-4 more in the next round -- on top of his customary touches in the first quarter of every game -- and Love told him there was no need for special treatment.
"I told him, 'We're 8-0. I don't mind it,'" Love said Thursday. "If I get five or six shots, if I get 15 shots, it don't matter to me, as long as we win. I've been in this position before; we're having success, so I'm happy. Feel good."
"Last year, especially, I thought Kevin and Kyrie really did a good job carrying us those first couple rounds," Lue said. "Against Detroit they were small with [Marcus] Morris, and Kevin really took advantage of that. I think Atlanta was the second round, Kevin was really great in that series.
"The playoffs is a game of matchups. That's why Toronto went out and got [Serge] Ibaka, to try to slow Kevin down because they had matchup problems last year with [Luis] Scola and [Patrick] Patterson and those guys; he really took advantage of those guys. That's why they went out and got Ibaka and those guys, to try and slow Kevin down.
"Maybe we didn't feature Kevin enough against Toronto, maybe we showed 'em too much respect, and that's on me. But next round I've got to do a better job of really getting Kevin involved and really establishing Kevin."
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No. 3: Hornacek says Porzingis isn't going anywhere -- Rising forward Kristaps Porzingis is the source of much of the hope the New York Knicks and their fans have about the future. While there has been some talk since the season's end that perhaps the Knicks may look to deal Porzingis, coach Jeff Hornacek squashed that talk yesterday. Al Iannazzone of Newsday has more:
Jeff Hornacek doesn’t see a scenario where Kristaps Porzingis is in anything but a Knicks’ uniform next season.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be on the roster,” Hornacek said Thursday afternoon at the NBA Draft Combine.
But that doesn’t mean all is well between the Knicks and Porzingis, who skipped his end-of-season exit meeting out of frustration over the direction of the franchise.
Hornacek said he recently sent Porzingis a text. When he was asked whether Porzingis texted him back, Hornacek just smiled and did not respond.
“We expect him back,” he said. “I think everything’s going to be just fine when we get back.”
This was the first time a member of the organization spoke publicly since Porzingis made the unexpected move following the Knicks’ 31-51 season. His two years in the NBA have been littered with losing and controversy surrounding the team.
Porzingis’ brother Janis, an agent with Andy Miller’s ASM group, told ESPN that Kristaps wants the Knicks “to create an environment where he can develop and grow as a player and win.”
Hornacek wouldn’t say he was disappointed that Porzingis didn’t show up, but he said they will talk eventually.
“He decided not to come to the meeting,” Hornacek said. “It would’ve been a great opportunity to talk about what he sees, but we figure it’s a long summer. We’ll end up talking to him, and all that stuff coming into next year will be fine.
“I don’t know if it’s disappointed. Guys make decisions and live with those decisions. It just would’ve been a good opportunity to talk about what the concerns are moving forward. You can’t do anything about the past. That’s the big thing. Whatever happened and went on, you can’t dwell on it. You got to learn from it and make the proper adjustments to move forward.”
Hornacek said he may fly overseas this summer for the European championships because Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas are playing for their respective countries.
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No. 4: Abdul-Jabbar regrets 'one-trick pony' comment about Nowitzki -- Time and perspective can change a lot of views on a lot of topics and, perhaps, that is what happened for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The NBA's all-time leading scorer raised eyebrows a year or so ago when, in an interview at George Mason University, he took a shot at the game of Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. In a recent interview on ESPN's "The Jump", though, Abdul-Jabbar walked back his words. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has more:
It took more than a year and apparently a lot of soul-searching, but superstar center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has finally regretted calling Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki a “one-trick pony.”
Abdul-Jabbar made the controversial comment about Nowitzki during a February 2016 interview at George Mason University. But on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Wednesday, Abdul-Jabbar decided to set the record straight through host Rachel Nichols.
“I want to make a shoutout to Dirk,” Abdul-Jabbar told Nichols. “Some of the statements I made about him were misconstrued to make it seem like I was trying to knock him and knock his career.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth.’’
Of Nowitzki, Abdul-Jabbar went on to say: “He helped the game evolve by stretching the court with his accurate three-point shooting. Anybody that can lead the league multiple times as the leading scorer is awesome.
“And anything that I said that made anybody think differently, they got it wrong. And I wanted him to hear that from me.”
Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar initially created a firestorm some 15 months ago when he was asked about Nowitzki’s one-legged fadeaway jump shot. That shot, which has been copied by many, appears to be as lethal as Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook.
“Dirk Nowitzki’s shot is very hard to block, but I don’t think that he was able to have a dominant career because he couldn’t do other things,” Abdul-Jabbar said during the interview at George Mason University. “If he could have shot like that and rebounded and played defense and blocked shots, then he would have been all-around, and he would have gotten more credit.
“He was like a one-trick pony. You want guys that can shoot like that on your team. I’m not saying that he lacked value, but he would have been considered at a higher level if he had done more on the court other than just shoot the ball.”
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